Book Review of The Smartest Places On Earth By Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker

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Genre: Development & Growth Economics
Author: Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker
Title: The Smartest Places On Earth (Buy the Book)

Summary:

In today’s world, it is easy to subscribe to the belief that the Western world is losing its footing as the economically dominant half of the globe.

In fact, many signs point to it – globalization, outsourcing and the general “earth-flattening” effect have certainly contributed to this line of thinking.Some analysts have even claimed that Europe will soon become “the museum of the world”.

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However, in The Smartest Places on Earth, co-authors Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker describe some recent worldwide phenomena that contradict those beliefs.

After multiple conversations and experiences hinting at a changing economic tide, the authors traveled around the globe in pursuit of “rustbelts” that have transformed into or are becoming “brainbelts”.

Bakker and van Agtmael define rustbelts in terms of the following:

“former industrial citadels that had been hit hard by offshoring, suffered decline, but were now coming back stronger than ever.”

Conversely, a “brainbelt” is described as a former rustbelt that, through a combination of many factors, has become a hub for sharing brainpower and smart manufacturing that is shaking up the global stage. It was these brainbelts, and the process by which they were formed, that convinced the authors so compellingly of the resurgence of Western production.

From places like Akron, Ohio, all the way to Eindhoven, The Netherlands, the authors saw firsthand examples of these brainbelts in action.

In once-thriving places that had fallen into economic despair, they saw revamped processes and extensive partnerships between corporations, universities, government organizations, and others.

Across the 10 worldwide destinations they traveled to and their further interviews and research, a trend began to emerge: focus was shifting from as cheap as possible to as smart as possible.

Though there are key differences in the innovation environment between the US and Europe in terms of government support and funding, both regions are developing products and ideas that will change the global competitive landscape.

In this book, the authors explore three specific areas of brainbelt innovation: chips and sensors, materials development, and bioscience collaboration.

They traveled to various international locations, interviewed countless experts, and conducted extensive research to uncover how brainsharing is changing the world within each space.

At each area of interest, they observed the quintessential brainbelt characteristics, as well as ones that were refreshingly unique to each region. They also examine how brainbelts will help us face some of the challenges posed by the 21st century.

Through careful study, meticulous research, and intuitive analysis, the authors illustrate to the reader how the list of the smartest places on Earth is starting to look much different than it ever has before.

Though each eventually finds its own unique identity, the following list of factors is critical in the development of any brainbelt:

  • Takes on complex, multidisciplinary and expensive challenges
  • Driven by a connector – an individual or group with vision, relationships, and energy
  • Operates in a collaborative ecosystem
  • Focuses on one, or just a few, particular disciplines
  • Open to sharing knowledge and expertise
  • Contains physical centers such as incubators or startup spaces
  • Fosters an environment that acts as a magnet for talent
  • Has capital available
  • Has an understanding and acknowledgment of threat

The authors endearingly refer to emerging brainbelts as “awakening beauties”.

The “prince” that awakens them is one of two things: the mounting frustration of smart people who have suffered economic decline for too long, or the entrance of a revolutionary player that sets a developmental process in motion.

Especially in rustbelts that once harbored a powerhouse of production in a certain sector, the industrial infrastructure and know-how is already in place; the area is simply a “sleeping beauty”.

Brainbelts are “awoken” as the dormant skillsets of a given area are built upon, facilitated by the factors just described and expanding uniquely along the way.

The authors also identify several challenges our global society will face as we move further into the 21st century, summarized in five areas: housing and communities, offices and workplaces, cities and agricultural areas, the environment, and transportation.

In consideration of each key area, they examine how the fruits of brainsharing can offer inventive solutions to problems impregnable by any one entity.

Due to the unconventional, collaborative, and effective nature of brainsharing, the authors believe that the solutions offered by brainbelts will prove more sustainable than any that have come before.

Eventually, automation will make cheap labor irrelevant.

As the authors have proved, smart has and will continue to beat cheap. Though not flawless, brainbelt solutions will help us optimize our international society.

As brainbelts begin to span the globe, their success will depend on our efforts to institute the policy, training, education, funding, and culture that allow them to thrive.

Brainbelts are creating products and fostering ideas that have and will continue to change our lives.

Not only will they bring significance back to Western manufacturing – they will help our entire global community solve problems and make the human experience the best it has ever been. As global citizens, we must work to make our world a place where brainbelts can thrive.

Innovation is what makes us competitive.

Developing the necessary skills, becoming adaptable to ever- changing dynamics, and always prioritizing smart over cheap will allow us to reach heights beyond anything we’ve ever seen.

Introduction

In today’s world, it is easy to subscribe to the belief that the Western world is losing its footing as the economically dominant half of the globe. In fact, many signs point to it – globalization, outsourcing and the general “earth-flattening” effect have certainly contributed to this line of thinking.

Some analysts have even claimed that Europe will soon become “the museum of the world”. However, in The Smartest Places on Earth, co-authors Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker describe some recent worldwide phenomena that contradict those beliefs.

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After multiple conversations and experiences hinting at a changing economic tide, the authors traveled around the globe in pursuit of “rustbelts” that have transformed into or are becoming “brainbelts.”

Bakker and van Agtmael define rustbelts in terms of the following: “former industrial citadels that had been hit hard by offshoring, suffered decline, but were now coming back stronger than ever.”

Conversely, a “brainbelt” is described as a former rustbelt that, through a combination of many factors, has become a hub for sharing brainpower and smart manufacturing that is shaking up the global stage. It was these brainbelts, and the process by which they were formed, that convinced the authors so compellingly of the resurgence of Western production.

Though there are several exceptions, most brainbelts find their start in places that were left behind by outsourcing.

However, these places provide the perfect springboard for a fresh start as a research and production powerhouse. Existing industrial infrastructure and technical know-how simply need several key factors, coupled with the grit and determination of local talent, to become thriving epicenters of innovation.

From places like Akron, Ohio, all the way to Eindhoven, The Netherlands, the authors saw firsthand examples of these brainbelts in action.

In once-thriving places that had fallen into economic despair, they saw revamped processes and extensive partnerships between corporations, universities, government organizations, and others.

Across the 10 worldwide destinations they traveled to and their further interviews and research, a trend began to emerge: focus was shifting from as cheap as possible to as smart as possible.

The sharing of brainpower has facilitated the rise of brainbelts across the globe, even in places like Austin, Texas that didn’t have the kind of existing infrastructure found in rustbelts.

These hubs of innovation showcase things like smart manufacturing and revolutionized R&D processes that are giving the current manufacturing leaders a run for their money.

Though the economy’s center of gravity is shifting towards emerging markets, the competitiveness of developed countries is once again on the rise thanks to brainbelts.

Though there are key differences in the innovation environment between the US and Europe in terms of government support and funding, both regions are developing products and ideas that will change the global competitive landscape.

The authors explore three specific areas of brainbelt innovation: chips and sensors, materials development, and bioscience collaboration.

They also examine how brainbelts will help us face some of the challenges posed by the 21st century.

Through careful study, meticulous research, and intuitive analysis, the authors illustrate to the reader how the list of the smartest places on Earth is starting to look much different than it ever has before.

THE MAKINGS OF A BRAINBELT

Both authors admitted to starting their research process still in the “rustbelt mindset”. When traveling to places like Akron, Ohio in search of brainsharing activity, neither had high expectations for cultural sophistication or aesthetics.

However, they were pleasantly surprised – in places left behind by modern industrial revolution, they found breeding grounds for innovation and collaboration filled with vibrant people, places, and culture.

Intense focus on startups and entrepreneurship attracted businesses, restaurants, and housing developments; the people in these areas were fully on board with creating an environment that would keep the spark of revitalization alive.

The authors set out to determine how these thriving hubs came to be, and to lay out the basic characteristics that define them.

In general, brainbelt initiatives are modeled after the usual suspects of Silicon Valley or Cambridge like Apple, Google, and MIT. However, they each develop organically in ways that create and preserve the cultural elements described above. Though each eventually finds its own unique identity, the following list of factors is critical in the development of any brainbelt:

  • Takes on complex, multidisciplinary and expensive challenges
  • Driven by a connector – an individual or group with vision, relationships, and energy
  • Operates in a collaborative ecosystem
  • Focuses on one, or just a few, particular disciplines
  • Open to sharing knowledge and expertise
  • Contains physical centers such as incubators or startup spaces
  • Fosters an environment that acts as a magnet for talent
  • Has capital available
  • Has an understanding and acknowledgment of threat

It is important to note that brainbelts are not simply haphazard clusters of smart people and organizations. Rather, they each function as ecosystems of contributors, typically comprised of research universities, local government authorities, and startups.

Entities like venture capital funds, professional service firms, and design companies provide the support necessary for brainbelts to reach their full potential. Brainbelts almost always include a multinational corporate player that is especially savvy to global competition and recognizes that R&D must eventually lead to a marketable product.

These companies understand that regional collaboration is key to gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage.

A good example of this is Intel’s Portland, Oregon campus – Intel is the state’s largest private employer, and has been critical to the continued success of Oregon’s semiconductor research and manufacturing.

Connectors are another crucial element of brainbelts. They help catalyze and facilitate the spread of knowledge and ultimately determine the personality of the brainbelt.

Whether the connector is an individual or a group, they must have a vision for the area and be able to leverage both expertise and connections to make that vision a reality.

Given the magnitude of the problems that brainbelts set out to solve, it makes sense that they can’t be tackled alone.

Brainbelts are “de-siloed” – the walls between academia and industry are broken down, and groups from both sides come together to take both research and production to new heights.

Cambridge-based biotech company Biogen pioneered this type of collaboration, which served as the inspiration for Silicon Valley.

The explosive success that followed spurred the Bayh- Dole Act of 1980, which monetarily incentivized researchers and universities to work with corporations using government grants.

Companies benefit from cooperation with outside parties in many ways, not the least of which being that beefing up research functions allows them to remain on the cutting edge of their respective industries.

Even though openness and trust aren’t customary in corporate settings, they are necessary in brainbelt settings due to the mutual dependency of the members.

For instance, IBM and the Oregon Health & Science University allowed each to leverage the other’s core competency (IBM’s processing power and OHSU’s massive datasets) to further initiatives in both organizations.

The risk of competition was nonexistent because of the vast difference in prerogatives, and the Portland area saw a surge in local pride and drive as a result of the revolutionary partnership.

Collaborations like these are changing the traditional, stuffy structure of participating institutions, as well as the way research is conducted as it becomes less siloed.

Another important feature of brainbelts is the presence of smart manufacturing. In contrast with manufacturing methods of old (and even many current practices), smart manufacturing hinges on customization, localization, complexity, and quality.

Similar to the spirit of brainbelts, smart manufacturing centers around a focus shift from the productivity of an individual to the brainpower among teams. This enhancement of the manufacturing process in conjunction with the brainsharing that occurs in brainbelts results in miraculous products like the ones that will be discussed in this brief.

The authors highlight robotics, 3D printing, and the internet of things as three transformative areas that will be most impacted by smart manufacturing.

These conditions cannot be replicated outside of a brainbelt – a reality that is causing a “join-or-die” phenomenon across companies everywhere.

The obvious benefits of these factors beg the question of why they aren’t more prevalent in global economic practices. But in reality, none of these conditions can occur without the right environment.

Brainbelts work because they attract a young and mobile crowd who are open to new ways of doing things and can adapt and contribute to brainsharing culture. These places are much cheaper to live and work in than Cambridge or Silicon Valley, and they feature cosmetics, high- caliber people and education, and wide arrays of businesses that make them worth moving to.

The authors endearingly refer to emerging brainbelts as “awakening beauties.”

The “prince” that awakens them is one of two things: the mounting frustration of smart people who have suffered economic decline for too long, or the entrance of a revolutionary player that sets a developmental process in motion.

Especially in rustbelts that once harbored a powerhouse of production in a certain sector, the industrial infrastructure and know-how is already in place; the area is simply a “sleeping beauty”. Brainbelts are “awoken” as the dormant skillsets of a given area are built upon, facilitated by the factors just described and expanding uniquely along the way.

THE CUTTING EDGE – WHAT’S HAPPENING IN GLOBAL BRAINBELTS?

As the authors have shown, all brainbelts have certain characteristics in common. One such trait is a focus on just one or two activities and/or industries.

Because of the intensity of this focus and the granularity of the initiatives of individual brainbelt participants, freedom to form close partnerships exists independently of the risk of direct competition. Some members even remain in competition with one another in different capacities outside of the context of the brainbelt, where their respective expertise does not overlap.

The authors delve into three areas of brainbelt activity in explicit detail: chip and sensor innovation, new materials development, and collaborations in bioscience and medical devices.

They traveled to various international locations, interviewed countless experts, and conducted extensive research to uncover how brainsharing is changing the world within each space.

At each area of interest, they observed the quintessential brainbelt characteristics, as well as ones that were refreshingly unique to each region.

Chip and Sensor Innovation

Throughout the book, the authors identify the mounting significance of the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT connects hundreds of billions of machines, devices, and other things to one another, enabling instantaneous analysis of the massive stream of big data they produce.

Clearly, the implications of this concept stretch far beyond what the human mind can process.

However, the IoT also represents a gold mine of potential that must be capitalized on as we continue to progress as a technological society. That capitalization is totally dependent on the development of computing power and storage capacity of the “things”.

Albany, New York; Dresden, Germany; and Eindhoven, The Netherlands have emerged as brainbelts in this area of expertise.

They focus specifically on two fundamental issues: larger silicon wafers to yield more chips and cut costs, and shrinking the distance between circuits in chips so that more power can be packed into smaller chips.

In Albany, the importance of a good connector is prominent in its brainbelt story.

Alain Kaloyeros of The State University of New York (SUNY) Polytechnic’s NanoTech Complex served as both a social and visionary connector, helping people from all different backgrounds get on board with an end goal that they couldn’t yet see.

His military background, coupled with “academic chops and an entrepreneurial drive”, helped him transform Albany into a brainbelt that challenged Asia as the chip-maker of the world.

He accomplished this by recognizing that SUNY’s desire to keep pace in advanced manufacturing was happening just as IBM began strategically moving away from the “Kremlin model” (closed, autocratic and siloed).

Though neither of them could stay ahead of the whole industry on their own, Kaloyeros had the foresight to develop the “800-pound gorilla” that was the NanoTech Complex to serve as a collaboration site where IBM’s resources and SUNY’s research capacity could be utilized in tandem.

He took it a step further by pushing the creation of the Global 450 Consortium, in which he persuaded industry leaders from around the world to conduct their research at the NanoTech Complex. How did he convince them? By touting the economic and structural advantages of brainsharing.

Bakker and van Agtmael found a similar situation in Dresden.

Once just a quaint town in Germany, it currently houses more than 2,000 companies and 51,000 employees in a brainbelt ecosystem where manufacturing companies GlobalFoundries and Infineon are making strides in chips and sensors.

Dresden was a hub in the 1930s known for its excellence in auto, aircraft and lens manufacturing. However, it fell into rustbelt status after World War II; it was not until Prime Minister Kurt Biedenkopf was elected after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the sleeping beauty began to wake up.

Biedenkopf was the connector who leveraged the existing infrastructure and technical expertise in Dresden, as well as the resources that global player Infineon had to offer, to create a brainbelt that today is the largest chip manufacturing site in Europe.

“Silicon Saxony” is comprised of smaller entities that teamed up to counterbalance the big players in Dresden.

By merging with smaller brainbelts in France, Austria, Belgium, and The Netherlands, Silicon Saxony created Silicon Europe to secure increased government funding for contributions to the greater European chip and sensor brainbelt effort.

The Silicon Saxony story highlights an interesting element of the innovation environment in Europe. The reluctance of its contributors to commit to the cause illustrates the culture of risk-aversion that is prevalent in Europe and can be a significant inhibitor to progress.

The authors recognize and commend the efforts of Silicon Saxony and Silicon Europe in attempting to change the cultural norms across Europe to be more innovation-friendly.

Finally, in Eindhoven, the authors saw firsthand how the resolve and motivation of smart people in a rustbelt region can give rise to a collaborative giant.

When Philips Electronics cut 35,000 jobs out of a town with only 200,000 inhabitants in the 1990s, Eindhoven’s outlook was bleak.

However, the newly-unemployed knowledge workers quickly banded together to form the High Tech Campus Eindhoven; the 100+ organizations involved would go on to produce more than 50% of all patent applications in the country.

In a true rags-to-riches story, this technological spark earned Eindhoven the title of “most intelligent region in the world” from the Intelligent Community Forum.

A key takeaway from the Eindhoven brainbelt is its transition from a supply chain to a value chain.

Rather than simply acting as suppliers, the companies in the region became innovators in the market, adding value to the process through collaboration.

Through these vignettes on various chip and sensor brainbelts, the authors underscored several fundamental elements necessary for brainbelt success: the efforts of a strong connector, the importance of physical infrastructure, and the ability to translate obsolete technical expertise into fresh knowledge applied to a new cause.

New Materials Development

In terms of materials, Bakker and van Agtmael emphasized the vast array of applications to things that seem routine. From clothing, to cars, to surgery, innovative materials have the potential to impact nearly every aspect of our lives.

In Akron, Ohio, the authors gained valuable insight into the cultural melting pot aspect of brainbelts.

Despite its geographic location and rustbelt past (it was the main rubber tire hub between New York and Chicago before the industry tanked), Akron is more than just salt-of-the- earth people who keep their heads down.

Today, it has become one of the top five industrial markets in the US by capitalizing on expertise in polymer science.

University of Akron President Luis Proenza played the role of connector by identifying the need for a bridge between the academic clout possessed by the University of Akron, Kent State, Ohio State, and the businesses in the area. This materialized in the form of an independent research foundation that allowed both sides to profit from their labor.

The University of Akron is now home to the largest academic program dedicated to the study of polymers.

The marriage of academia and corporate resources in the brainbelt have yielded advances in the form of products like self-healing coatings, insulin- level-detecting contact lenses, and paints that emit light.

When the tobacco and textile industries dried up, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle in North Carolina took on the project of creating Research Triangle Park (RTP) – the first fully- formed research park in America.

Though it took a decade to populate, IBM’s 1965 decision to build a production plant there was the boost the park needed to realize its full potential.

While it must be noted that clustering is not the same as brainsharing, the park has attracted more than 64 companies to nearby North Carolina State’s Centennial Campus, which now resembles a textile brainbelt. The region has been transformed into one that “still features rolling hills but is better known for its brainsharing.”

The European materials development scene is active as well.

In Sweden, Ideon was funded by IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad to function as a research park centered on both electronics and biotechnology. Electronics company Ericsson located its research center there, and even after being acquired by Sony in the wake of the iPhone debut, Sony chose to keep the research center at Ideon because of its technological prowess.

In the Netherlands, the impressive corporate- academic collaboration has led to the region being called the “Akron of Europe”.

Chemelot – a product of collaboration between the University of Maastricht, local authorities, and a private company – has created over 1,100 jobs, paving the way in materials endeavors such as living heart valves made with biodegradable polymers, catalysts for oil companies like BP and Shell, and smart-stem-cell materials that can rebuild bones and tissue.

The author’s findings in the materials development brainbelts underscore the importance of collaboration between many different parties, specifically academic and corporate groups.

Additionally, they again point out the importance of perseverance and tenacity in the success of these brainbelts.

Cross-Boundary Bioscience Collaboration

Chronic diseases are the world’s biggest health challenge. Causing more than 60% of deaths and 75% of medical expenses worldwide, these conditions are too big of a problem to solve alone. Brainsharing is the only solution, meaning that the success of brainbelts in the bioscience sector is paramount.

The authors traveled to several bioscience brainbelts that are leading the charge in leveraging academic research to create life-changing medical devices.

The first of these was Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis brainbelt brought to light a couple of important points – firstly, that a connector does not always have to be an individual.

After losing a pediatric patient during open heart surgery due to a power outage, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei triggered the chain of events that led to the creation of a brainbelt in Minneapolis.

However, it was a company – Medtronic – that ultimately played the role of connector in Minneapolis by creating a strong relationship with the University of Minnesota to capitalize on brainsharing synergies. Today, Medtronic produces more than 40% of the 1.5 million pacemakers sold annually.

Secondly, the Minneapolis brainbelt was one that did not begin as a rustbelt.

Bakker and van Agtmael found here a strong example of a confluence of only intangible factors leading to a brainbelt.

The existing infrastructure of rustbelts is important, but not vital to their creation.

In the same vein, even if infrastructure didn’t exist before, it must be carefully planned when it is eventually instated within the ecosystem. A great example of this is within the Portland brainbelt.

Nike chairman and co-founder Phil Knight has played a huge role in funding infrastructure designed with collaboration in mind. Knight and his counterparts had the important realization that converting academic progress into marketable products is the best and only way forward in a brainbelt environment.

Their innovative physical design facilitated a partnership between Intel and the aforementioned OHSU that has led to progress toward the “Google map of cancer”.

In Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden, the authors saw continued trends in bioscience brainbelts of collaboration and smart manufacturing leading to breakthrough inventions and technologies that are lengthening our life spans at this very moment.

Western companies, through brainsharing, are dominating advanced medical technology production with products like pacemakers, prosthetics, and implants. In fact, two-thirds of the 46 largest medical device makers are located in the United States.

Though there are still hurdles to jump in this sector, one thing was abundantly clear to the authors – smart trumps cheap.

21st CENTURY SOLUTIONS

Amidst all of the exciting and fascinating breakthroughs being made in global brainbelts, it is important not to lose sight of the greater purpose for all of the progress being made. How will these revolutionary strides help our society overcome its most daunting issues?

The authors have identified several challenges our global society will face as we move further into the 21st century, summarized in five areas: housing and communities, offices and workplaces, cities and agricultural areas, the environment, and transportation.

In consideration of each key area, they examine how the fruits of brainsharing can offer inventive solutions to problems impregnable by any one entity.

Due to the unconventional, collaborative, and effective nature of brainsharing, the authors believe that the solutions offered by brainbelts will prove more sustainable than any that have come before.

One issue that has been especially prominent on the sociopolitical stage is how to reduce our dependency on environmentally harmful products. Upon reviewing the results of their research, Bakker and van Agtmael concluded that energy storage is the answer.

In 2014, the world saw no rise in carbon emissions for the first time. This can be credited to the US and other global players taking steps to cut consumption and provide supply alternatives.

However, if we are truly to reduce our collective footprint, the electric grid needs to become smarter.

Traditional “consumers” of energy will have to become “producers”, giving power back to the common grid by means of brainbelt-developed technology.

The seeds for this type of progress are already being sown – German energy producer RWE has refocused its core competency to be sustainable energy production, and companies like 24M and Tesla are working in conjunction with government support to re-vamp the batteries in electric vehicles.

The authors posit that this changing tide will cause a transformation similar to what the traditional telephone industry saw during the rise of mobile telephones.

Transportation, specifically the automobile, has been deemed the everyday technology that could most use a radical redesign.

This change will be a function of product types that the authors saw all over the world in different brainbelts – chips and new materials.

The car of the future will require all the hallmarks of brainbelts: big global players rich in resources, small companies with focused expertise, government support, academia, smart manufacturing capacity, and of course, a connector to coordinate the entire effort.

Companies like Tesla are answering the call through the development of the autonomous car.

The US government is also alleviating some of the pressure associated with this challenge through initiatives like DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). DARPA’s “Grand Challenge” helped identify the self-driving vehicle that Google is currently helping to develop.

Presently, Google’s flight of 12 test vehicles has driven over 800,000 miles of urban and rural road without causing a single accident.

Self-driving or not, cars of the future will have a huge impact on multiple 21st-century themes, ranging from climate change to public health. As our population expands to unprecedented levels, so too does the problem of hunger.

Brainsharing has given rise to new initiatives such as high-tech greenhouses, robotic dairy farms, and LED-light technology to increase plant productivity.

At the behest of Casey Houweling, a California farmer, Dutch-based KUBO designed a greenhouse intended for hot climates with a closed-circuit water recycling system and temperature control fans.

This greenhouse has enabled Houweling to produce on 125 acres the equivalent of a traditional 3,000-acre tomato harvest.

Elsewhere in agriculture, Green Sense farms partnered with Philips to utilize LED lighting in maximizing plant productivity. Their new facilities are yielding ten times normal harvest sizes at 15% of the typical energy requirement.

Finally, companies like FrieslandCampina are developing “milk refineries” that not only increase the quality of milk, but simultaneously enhance the output of milk byproducts such as cheese, lactose, and whey. These agricultural advances are making better quality food accessible much closer to home.

Urban areas, especially emerging ones, are experiencing runaway levels of growth. Each of the problems discussed above are relevant to urbanization as well.

In light of the discussion on hunger, we must recognize that maintaining a healthy diet can be costly in cities located far from where food is grown.

Companies like STRP in Eindhoven are working to change our perception of what “urban” spaces should be, and continue to develop ways to repurpose the limited space within cities to be more accommodating of urban agriculture.

GE is developing LED lighting solutions that will adjust based on season, time of day, activity level, and preferences of local authorities and residents to ease some of the strains our global cities face.

Cities will be made more efficient only through collaboration and brainsharing; the authors believe this type of contribution will result in a “village mentality”, related to the sharing economy concept proffered by companies like Airbnb and Uber.

Finally, managing the sheer level of information generated by the workings of our society each and every day has become a troublesome task. Consequently, workplaces are being forced to reevaluate how they approach business objectives.

The Internet Industry Consortium was founded in 2014 to set a protocol for data sharing between systems and machines.

Companies like Cisco, Intel, IBM, and AT&T all opted into this open-membership group in hopes of staying ahead of the global information curve. The volume of data available is blurring traditional industry lines.

Fortunately, brainsharing makes use of smart manufacturing, which is designed to thrive on big data coming from a variety of sources. Eventually, automation will make cheap labor irrelevant. As the authors have proved, smart has and will continue to beat cheap.

Though not flawless, brainbelt solutions will help us optimize our international society. As brainbelts begin to span the globe, their success will depend on our efforts to institute the policy, training, education, funding, and culture that allow them to thrive.

LOOKING AHEAD: THE FUTURE OF BRAINBELTS

The decline of the low-cost labor advantage is beginning to define our world order. As is typical of global power shifts, this one was brought about by people eager for change.

A common theme that the authors noted was the willingness of those people to put in the necessary work through collaboration. Bakker and van Agtmael point out that this type of change is distinct from the rise of global idols like Apple and Google – they dub those companies the “lonely heroes” because they are self-sufficient.

Anything they might need, they can procure for themselves – they want for nothing in terms of resources. The authors warn against this lonely hero model; innovation is choked when collaboration is limited, which is exactly why brainbelts thrive.

In order to wake up the rest of the world’s sleeping beauty brainbelts, we must also make a shift – one that makes it easier to evaluate the performance of brainbelts at every stage.

The authors have laid out several areas of improvement in which we can make changes to foster global brainbelt development:

  • Policy and guidelines: The US is the only country without an official set of innovation guidelines and objectives. Things like best practice guidelines, incentives and rewards, and removing regulatory barriers could help the brainbelt process immensely.
  • New metrics: The “productivity paradox” is the lack of alignment between the massive increase in computer power and the marginal improvement in productivity measures. We must find better ways to account for new sources of innovation and productivity.
  • Infrastructure and environment: Brainbelts need convenient urban locations with low-cost transformation opportunities. Our planning and zoning procedures should be geared toward cohesive innovation districts.
  • Education and training: In order to remedy the emerging skills gap, we must recognize that college isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone. Implementing the European work- study model of subsidized partnerships between community colleges and corporations provides a good potential solution.
  • Funding: Brainsharing is most effective when multiple funders pass the baton as the brainbelt progresses. Venture capital (both public and private), angel investors, business incubators, and crowdfunders are all important to the process and should be treated as such by our policymakers.
  • Organization and culture: These should be flexible, especially during tough times. Good leaders need to rely on brainsharing to keep the organization strong through any economic environment.

In conclusion, we must recognize and act on the fact that brainbelts everywhere are changing the global dynamic. =

The authors arrived at a mutual agreement at the end of their work:

“The brainbelt phenomenon involved connecting people in a new process (brainsharing) as well as connecting the digital world of IT, data analytics, and wireless communications with new and old ways of “making things” to create new technologies and products.”

Brainbelts are creating products and fostering ideas that have and will continue to change our lives.

Not only will they bring significance back to Western manufacturing – they will help our entire global community solve problems and make the human experience the best it has ever been. As global citizens, we must work to make our world a place where brainbelts can thrive.

Innovation is what makes us competitive. Developing the necessary skills, becoming adaptable to ever-changing dynamics, and always prioritizing smart over cheap will allow us to reach heights beyond anything we’ve ever seen.

HookedtoBooks.com would like to thank the Titans of Investing for allowing us to publish this content. Titans is a student organization founded by Britt Harris. Learn more about the organization and the man behind it by clicking either of these links.

Britt always taught us Titans that Wisdom is Cheap, and principal can find treasure troves of the good stuff in books. We hope only will also express their thanks to the Titans if the book review brought wisdom into their lives.

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